Weir a Winner Hensby a Puzzle

By Brian HewittOctober 22, 2007, 4:00 pm
Mike Weir had been away from victory for three and a half long years. All of Canada waited. The pressure built. And Sunday at the Frys Electronics Open in Arizona the wait ended.
Weirs short game was better than Mark Hensbys when it counted. Weirs off-season, replete with memories of a singles conquest in Montreal over Tiger Woods in the Presidents Cup and now the win at Frys, will be a sweet one.
Its been a long time coming, Weir said afterward.
And for Mark Hensby, its been a long time gone. His story is a very different one from Weirs. But it is one worth examination.
Of all the professional golfers Ive ever covered and written about, Mark Hensby is one of them.
And, yes, if you missed the nuance, its hard not to damn Hensby with faint praise.
And thats because this enigmatic and hardscrabble Aussie is so difficult to figure.
Stoic? Hensby repeated after finishing second and being asked about his demeanor. I have no idea what that means. Do you have a dictionary?
Is Hensby the sometimes brilliant player who fired a sizzling 61 at the Frys Friday in Arizona? Or is Hensby the bubblehead who forgot to file his application and missed the deadline for gaining entry into this years Q-school?
Was Hensby dead-on or a loose cannon two years ago when he slung mud at the figurative shrine of Greg Norman, the patriarch of modern Australian golf?
I cant see why Greg Norman isnt doing anything, Hensby said of the man voted Australias Golfer of the Century. To me, he should be doing a little bit more to make sure it (the Australasian PGA Tour) doesnt go downhill.
Among other Aussies, Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby'were quick to defend Norman against Hensbys attack. Allenby characterized Hensbys comments as pretty sad.
This is the same Hensby who regularly slept in a car in the parking lot one winter near Chicagos Cog Hill No. 4 so he could practice at that facilitys heated hitting bays when they opened.
There is no questioning Hensbys heart. And much of what rolls around inside his head is worth listening to if, for no other reason, than his voice is so ... well ... different.
Hensby arrived at Grayhawk Golf Club this week ranked No. 151 on the money list. By the time he made the turn Sunday, he held a share of the lead with Weir.
By the end of the day of the day he had earned $540,000 and secured his playing privileges for 2008. No Q-school necessary after all.
Almost forgotten now is the incident at Bay Hill two years ago when Hensby ran out of golf balls.
It was embarrassing, Hensby said at the time, after pumping the last Titleist in his bag out of play on the last hole of his first round. What was I going to do?
Because his caddie hadnt replenished his supply overnight when the first round bled into Friday because of a rain delay, he found himself out of ammo. And because the partners in his grouping used different golf balls than his, he couldnt borrow one.
The media treated his withdrawal as an amusing development. But privately, many of Hensbys fellow players considered his faux-pas to be inexcusable.
Meanwhile, Hensbys lone visit to Grayhawk before this week was to attend fellow Aussie Geoff Ogilvys wedding there. On Thursday, by his own account, he didnt hit a fairway until his 10th hole.
Going into this week Hensby was still looking for his first top 10 of the year and had seen his world ranking drop to No. 345. This from a player who had climbed into the top 30 in those rankings and won $2.7 million as recently as 2004 to finish No. 15 on the money list. The highlight was a victory at the John Deere Classic. In 2005 he played on the International side in the Presidents Cup.
Injuries slowed his progress after that and when he missed half the cuts of the events he entered last year he basically disappeared from most peoples golf radar screens.
To me it doesnt matter, Hensby said bravely Saturday when pressed about his Q-school blunder. If I play well, I dont have to worry about it. If I dont, Im not going to go to Q-School.
Sunday, Hensby played better than everybody except Weir. They will be dancing in the streets north of the border at golf courses all across Canada this week. But down under, its hard to know if many people took very much notice of the guy who came second and now safely ranks No. 99 on the U.S, money.
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.